Bea was the first Black student in Richmond Professional Institute’s theatre department. When she arrived in 1965, she recalls, “I didn’t realize that VCU was a white school until I walked in the first day. Fortunately, people in the arts are more accepting, including my fellow students.”
That auspicious beginning became even more significant when she was elected Harvest Ball Queen, the closest thing the college had to homecoming. Led by Charles Massey, her fellow theatre students decided she should run, so they created a campaign that got her the title.
Her crowning attracted news coverage across the U.S., including CBS News and Jet Magazine.
“Just getting into VCU was a surprise,” Bea says. “Then to get nominated [for queen], then elected, it was amazing. I’d never imagined anything like that happening.”
Ironically, Bush was not allowed to be escorted by Massey or any of the white students who championed her campaign. The school recruited a Black student to escort her.
After graduation, Bea’s career alternated between teaching high school theatre and working on local stages and in films including, most recently, Swagger for Apple TV. Bea says she wasn’t planning to teach, but her advisor, Tom Holloway, pointed out she was only two classes away from a teaching certificate.
She also fondly remembers another one of her teachers, Richard Newdick. “Mr. Newdick and I came to the theatre department at the same time,” she says. “I remember him with great affection and I will always remember that laugh.”
Written by Liz Hopper and Jerry Williams for the July 2020 Theatre Alumni newsletter.